KHARTOUM, Jan 18, 2011 (AFP) - Sudanese security officers arrested Islamist opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi early on Tuesday just hours after he warned in an AFP interview of a Tunisia-style uprising, his son said.
Turabi's arrest from his Khartoum home before 1:00 am (2200 GMT Monday) was part of a wave of arrests against members of his Popular Congress Party, Siddig al-Turabi said, as Sudan stands at a crossroads following a landmark southern independence vote expected to lead to the partition of Africa's largest nation.
The Sudan Media Centre, a news agency close to the Khartoum security services, said that Turabi's latest arrest followed the "confessions" of senior leaders of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rounded up in the western region of Darfur that he "guided and financed" them.
The Khartoum authorities have long accused Turabi of having links with the Islamist JEM, the most heavily armed of the rebel groups that have fighting government troops in Darfur for the past eight years.
"It is true," Siddig said, after a Turabi aide said the longtime kingpin turned bitter critic of President Omar al-Bashir's regime had been detained at his home in the Sudanese capital.
"They never tell you why people are arrested.
"It may be because of the opposition press conference," he added, referring to a forum on Sunday at which opposition leaders joined in congratulating the Tunisian people on seeing off veteran strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and calling for Bashir to heed popular demands to share power.
"He was arrested normally," Siddig said, meaning his 78-year-old father had sustained no injuries during his detention.
"We have other people arrested in the party. This is a big wave of arrests."
In the interview with AFP just hours before his arrest, Turabi had said that a Tunisia-style revolt was likely in the north as the country's faces the prospect of partition.
"This country has known popular uprisings before," Turabi had told AFP, referring to popular revolts which toppled military regimes in 1964 and 1985.
"What happened in Tunisia is a reminder. This is likely to happen in Sudan," he said, referring to the month-long deadly protests that prompted Ben Ali to take refuge in Saudi Arabia after 23 years of iron-fisted rule.
"If it doesn't, then there will be a lot of bloodshed. The whole country is armed. In the towns it will be a popular uprising, but in Darfur, and in Kordofan as well, they have weapons.
"I'm quite sure if there's any uprising here, the Darfur region will be active," he said.
In May 2008, JEM fighters launched an unprecedented march on Khartoum, reaching the capital's twin city of Omdurman just across the Nile from the presidential palace before being repulsed with heavy losses.
Turabi was a key figure behind the 1989 coup that brought Bashir to power and has spent long periods in jail or under house arrest for his outspoken comments since the two men fell out in 1999.
He said the looming secession of the south was stoking fears that "centrifugal forces" might cause the whole country to break up, given the separatist tendencies in Darfur, in the east where a 12-year rebellion ended with a still-fragile 2006 peace agreement, and in South Kordofan state with its close links to the south.
"The people of Sudan are shocked," he said of the week-long referendum, the centrepiece of the 2005 peace agreement that ended a 22-year civil war between north and south.
"They are really worried about the disintegration of their country."
On Sunday, opposition parties, including Turabi's, called a joint news conference to congratulate Tunisians and demand an "end to the totalitarian regime" in Khartoum.
"The land is ready for a popular uprising," said Mubarak al-Fadil, a member of the Umma party, which won multi-party elections in 1986, three years before Bashir's coup.
Turabi said that opposition parties were working on ways to overthrow Bashir's government peacefully, having unsuccessfully lobbied for political reform.
"We are establishing committees all over the country so that we can mobilise and control any uprising," the Islamist leader told AFP.